“If you come in five minutes after this begins, you won’t know what it’s all about! When you’ve seen it all, you’ll swear there’s never been anything like it!”
– Tagline for The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Outside of the occasional Hitchcock flick, the tagline for The Manchurian Candidate doesn’t lie. 50 years later, John Frankenheimer’s film is still one of the best, and most twisted, political and psychological thrillers of all time. I watched it way too early in my life and few scenes haunt me as much as Bennett Marco’s reoccurring nightmares of a surreal office, where his M.I.A. comrades are killed over and over again. At the center of the madness is the eloquent, well-dressed and maniacal Dr. Yen Lo.

The setting’s now Brownsville, New York, and MC Ka takes over as the narrator while hype-baiting producer Preservation takes the director’s chair. But Days with Dr. Yen Lo builds the same world of anxiety, paranoia and treacherous twists as The Manchurian. It’s a trip and Ka is more than happy to be your tour guide, even if each line he spits reaches Inception levels of layers upon layers. Keep a dictionary and sleep aids at the ready.

Ka is the best rapper you’ve never heard of. That title usually has some hint of condescension, but if you haven’t listened to a bar of his work, it’s true. He’s crafted a few self-produced projects, all labyrinthine in lyrics and skeletal in the beats. He’s Mobb Deep’s Prodigy and Havoc rolled into one, with just as much menace and 10 times the subtlety. He sounds like a more hushed Prodigy, and on Days with Dr. Yen Lo he’s happy to fade into the murk, drawing listeners in with his flow while Preservation provides murk with glee. His vinyl grabbing sound runs parallel to Adrian Younge who worked alongside Ghostface Killah on the 12 Reasons to Die series. But Preservation is more subdued than Younge; where Younge would slap in cracking drums, Preservation pulls everything back. The brilliant “Day 3” doesn’t even have percussion, relying on layered bass samples, with the pendulum swing of the higher notes floating over the abyssal lower hums. Less is infinitely more.

It’s tempting to tag the dear Doctor as a producer of horrorcore rap, but like the movie it pays homage to, the shock and awe is mostly in dreams and on the sideline. Ka wants to mess with your head before he goes for the jugular. “It’s madness, the cycle of revenge is sadness/ Had to grab your own rifle, no friends with badges,” he mutters, his sketches of inner cities filled with grime and the boys in blue who’ll choke you for selling cigarettes. Coupled with his murmured delivery, Ka arrives as something not quite human. “Stained hearts, brainwashed by mind serpents/ The fact I’m still here, it’s clear it’s divine purpose,” he spits, confident in his role as an anti-hero, in control of his own destiny.

As for your destiny, the future ain’t so clear. This is anti-pop-rap, meant to make listeners profoundly uncomfortable. “Day 13” ebbs and flows; Ka’s raps are the only steady foundation, as Preservation’s horns, violins and pianos float in and out like a half remembered dream. “Day 70” swirls like a fever; soulful vocals and chimes offer heaven while Ka reveals the backdoor to hell. Even with Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples spinning some of the darkest tales of 2015, there might be nothing as foreboding as the slinky, growling sound of opener “Day 0,” a perfect introduction to the bloody, mesmerizing world of Dr. Yen Lo.

The discomfort is precise and purposeful. Ka’s view is hyper-micro with back alleys and smoldering apartments serving as the main settings, but is this real or a dream? What’s hypnotized you? The 24-hour news cycle? Your drug of choice? Your family? Ka and Preservation’s message is clear. Your phone is tapped, the body snatchers are here–trust no one. Dr. Yen Lo horrifies and brainwashes by going into the miniature. The body count of Days with Dr. Yen Lo is low, the blood is off screen and Ka is never forceful, but lets you create your own nightmares. There’s never been anything like it.

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